Walden West ~ December

Walden West ~ November

My decision to visit the place I dubbed ‘Walden West’ each month in 2022 may be the first New Year’s resolution I’ve actually kept. In the beginning, I had few expectations and no plan; I only intended to visit on a monthly basis, recording whatever seemed interesting.

I certainly didn’t expect to find such variety in such a small spot; over the months, I learned far more than I could have imagined. From the names of unfamiliar plants to the intricacies of spider web construction, it seemed there was no end to the discoveries.

There were surprises, too. By early summer, the water in the vernal pool had evaporated. While I assumed it would fill again by fall or winter, it’s still quite dry. Thanks to recent rains, the hard earth has turned spongy and much plant life remains green, but as we make the turn into spring, the absence of water is perplexing. Clearly, additional visits to check the water level will be in order.

The biggest surprise of all was the sadness I felt as I approached the end of the project. I never expected to become attached to the spot, and yet I had: so much so that I briefly considered continuing the project for another year. In the end, I decided against that, but I did find myself appreciating in a new way some words from Joan Didion’s collection of essays titled The White Album:

A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his image.

Here, then, are a few images from a place I claimed for myself over the course of a year: not re-making it, but appreciating it in a new way. 

While the pool remains dry, there is evidence of water here. If you compare this photo, taken in December, with the November photo above, you can see that the large log has been moved some distance. Not only that, all of the loose limbs and twigs shown in the second photo have been piled together. Perhaps the force of water running through the area during last month’s flooding rains was responsible.

Walden West ~ December
Branches swept along by water

The large log, whose patterns I explored in a previous month, had been rolled over, and decorated with a leaf.

Having sighted a raccoon in November, it made sense that fur would be added to the feathers occasionally found among the leaves.

As I wandered the area, changes wrought by falling temperatures, less light, and the natural progressions of the seasons became apparent. The pretty poison ivy triplet I’d admired in November had shriveled and become less attractive.

November poison ivy
The same poison ivy in December

Both the Climbing Hempvine and the cattail it climbed for so many weeks turned from bloom to seed, completing their cycle for the year.

Climbing Hempvine and cattail in August
The same hempvine and cattail in December

Poison ivy, still colorful in last February, declined quickly as fall approached, perhaps because of the droughty conditions.

Last year’s poison ivy, lingering in February
December’s poison ivy, nearly gone

None of the Yaupon or Possumhaw trees produced prolifically this year, but by December only a few berries lingered: thanks, perhaps, to hungry birds or other creatures.

November Possumhaw
The same branch in December

This small collection of Silverleaf Nightshade fruits had disappeared: perhaps at the hand of land managers who had done some trimming in the area.

Silverleaf Nightshade fruits in November

Where similar fruits remained, they had begun to shrivel and dry. Rarely eaten, they often can be found even as new flowers begin to form on the next year’s plants.

A December decline for the Nightshades

A short distance from Walden West, the ascendance of winter became even more obvious. Leafless trees, sere grasses, and silence marked a world grown fallow.

But here and there, buried life emerged. Wild onions lay scattered on the ground, the result of foraging by feral hogs or other creatures.

A trailing vine, perhaps the non-native Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) crossed through fallen leaves.

Possibly Japanese honeysuckle

And during my last, New Year’s Day visit to Walden West, a cluster of Violet Wood Sorrel bloomed near the edge of the path leading to the clearing.

No doubt Thoreau was right when he wrote, “No mortal is alert enough to be present at the first dawn of spring.” But if the pretty wood sorrels weren’t the first sign of spring, they surely were a sign: a fitting reminder that, even as my human project ended, Nature’s projects continue on.

Violet woodsorrel ~ Oxalis violacea

Comments always are welcome.
For an overview of my Walden West year, please click here.

70 thoughts on “Walden West ~ December

  1. This is a beautiful accounting in words and photos of Walden West in December. Perhaps there is a future book about your time there through the seasons?

    I enjoyed the quote from Joan Didion.

    1. If you haven’t read The White Album, I think you’d enjoy it. It’s one of her earlier publications, and has been a bit overshadowed since by books like Slouching Toward Bethlehem and The Year of Magical Thinking, but it’s a gem.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the conclusion to this wonderful year. I am going to have to go back to see when — or if — the vernal pool refills, but new projects await.

  2. I don’t know if you consider yourself a naturalist, but from my perspective you have the eye and patience of one. I also enjoy the way your observations are expressed with such clarity and without pretense. I suspect there are other Waldens waiting for you to explore. I look forward to it.

    1. Lyle, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your comments. I’ve occasionally mentioned that I began exploring the natural world because of an interest in our native wildflowers, but I soon learned that where there are flowers, there are insects. Where there are insects, there are reptile and birds: and so on. As John Muir says, quite rightly, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” If we’re willing to slow down and observe what ‘is’ without preconceptions, Muir’s vision can be ours.

  3. I can identify with the sadness of coming to the end of a project – but you will come up with another. I’m sure your idea about the power of the rains is right. I like the way you focus on the woodland floor.

    1. One of the best books I’ve read in recent years is May Theilgaard Watts’s Reading the Landscape of America. She makes the point that accustomed as we are to seeing evidence of landscape-shaping forces in geology — worn mountains, eroded land, and so on — even a forest floor bears traces of its history.

      As for the new project? It’s in the works. I have a location and a series title. Now, there are only a few logistics to be worked out — quickly, so that January can be included.

  4. What a great idea to return to the same place each month. As well as seeing it in its different aspects through the year, it’s a good way to focus on all these individual plants and the animals that make up the landscape. You must learn quite a lot about it over the year.

    1. I generally enjoyed school — apart from a teacher or two I remember less than fondly — and I enjoyed learning. In a sense, Walden West has been my classroom, and paying attention to the lessons it had to teach has been great fun. I have learned a lot: not just about the plants and animals, but about how to pay attention. Now, it’s time to apply those skills to a new project.

  5. Sounds like a wonderful endeavor. We walk 2 parks year round and I’ve often taken photos but never with the intention of recording the changes. I can see how taxing that can be.

    1. I wouldn’t call the experience ‘taxing,’ exactly, but it did require some discipline since the spot is some distance from home. One thing I learned should have been obvious, but it never had occurred to me; there’s a difference between ‘finding time’ and ‘making time.’
      Making time for this project was well worth it.

  6. This is a book. It should be a book. And you should be doing those talks where people attend (like at community centers). Or schools. You show the changes, the incremental ones — and remind people to look. Not just to look, to see. Really, this deserves a far bigger audience than your blog readers, even if you have a zillion of them. An article, a book, a talk. Don’t let it just sit. This is exquisite.

    1. Sometimes, what ‘is’ is good enough. I sense this series wouldn’t lend itself so well to an article, a book, or a talk, because it’s more like a conversation: initially, between Walden West and me, and then with my readers and commenters. It’s the conversation that makes the blog format more appealing to me than publishing articles in magazines; when I’ve done that, it’s been surprisingly unsatisfying.

      Beyond that, I’ve done enough public speaking to groups to know what that entails, and it no longer appeals. I’m perfectly content to be the little old lady crawling around on her knees in a ditch, occasionally surfacing to say, “Hey! Lookie what I found!”

      1. You’re right about that. But I do think it would lend well to any of those things based on how you wrote it. But you’re right about publication in magazines. Usually unsatisfying. The speaking is great if you’re up for it because if you want interaction and reaction, it’s right in front of you! But it takes time to prepare the slide show, especially if you add other media elements to it. Well, I’m glad you are sharing it here!

    1. Thanks, Rob. As with any relationship, mine with Walden West deepened with increased familiarity and knowledge. Some things in life take time; spending some of mine in this way has been immensely satisfying.

    1. I began this because of Chris Helzer’s Square Meter Project. I decided that I didn’t have the knowledge or the photographic skills to make such a small area as interesting as Chris did, but Walden West was just large enough, with plenty of diversity without being overwhelming.

      It will be fun to follow along with your garden bed. I know so little about gardening, I suspect I’ll learn a lot from you.

  7. Here’s to the completion of your project, even if a touch of sadness comes with having finished it. The paired comparison photographs are a good way to show changes. Now we’ll have to wonder about the ways in which you’re different now compared to a year ago.

    1. To paraphase the old song, I suppose I could say I’m another year older and deeper in debt: although in this case, my debt is to all the people, both living and dead, who’ve contributed to this little venture. Whether it’s a website like BugGuide or a reader leaving a comment, all the answers and questions helped me know this place in a way otherwise impossible. Great fun.

      1. And perhaps T.S. Eliot’s lines are going through your mind:

        “We shall not cease from exploration
        And the end of all our exploring
        Will be to arrive where we started
        And know the place for the first time.”

  8. It has been a good journey through time in this place. So much in our lives goes unnoticed. Only when we try hard, or it is forced upon us, do we see the changes. Thanks for putting them in front of my eyes.
    I use the WordPress Reader for following blogs. Most of the time blog posts are formatted fine similar to what the author wrote. This time, your post in Reader was mashed into a format difficult to read. So, I went to your blog. There, I found it well constructed. I could see the care and time you took to format images, captions, and paragraph placements. A much better experience.

    1. I never have used the Reader; I prefer email notifications, and use an RSS feed reader for sites that don’t allow that. I have seen a few comments recently about formatting issues, and I was astonished — and disappointed — when I looked at my own post. Thanks for pointing that out. I intend to discuss the issue with WordPress, albeit with no expectation that it will do any good.

      It has been a good journey. Attentiveness is key, and as I mentioned above, observing without expectation. If we think we know what we’re going to see, it’s easy to miss some wonderful details. Now, on to the next project!

      1. More often, I go directly to the site of their post. Especially if I know they typically are careful about how things look . Your posts deserve to be viewed that way.

        1. I just had a nice chat with a WordPress person. There aren’t any reported bugs with the Reader formatting, but I’m using a theme that’s been retired, so there hasn’t been any maintenance of the theme itself or how it converts to the Reader format. The solution is an updated theme. I’d thought about changing themes to allow a wider photo column, but laziness set in, and I stopped thinking about it. Maybe later.

          I did notice that if I clicked on the post title in the reader, things went wonky. But, if I clicked on my blog title — Lagniappe — the newest post popped up, properly formatted. Thanks again for pointing it out.

  9. What a wonderful project, and I am sorry to see it end. It seems to me that the attention you brought to Walden West is a form of love and something that we can all do with our little spots, no matter where we live.

    1. And that’s exactly the conclusion I hoped people would take with them. The grand places in our world — the Rockies, the coast of Maine, the rolling prairies — are splendid, but there’s just as much to appreciate in every part of the world. There’s a Mary Oliver poem that puts it perfectly, and that I think I might post here as a separate epilogue.

  10. That Wood Sorrel is gorgeous … and surely a good sign of Spring to come! I enjoyed your cataloguing of Walden West, Linda. I learned a lot about plants and critters from reading your posts, and it strikes me as fascinating how you came up with the idea to do a monthly post on the changes. Congrats on completing your project! Now you’ll have to find another one; in fact, I’ll bet you’ve already been contemplating this!

    1. Our wood sorrels come in both pink and yellow, and I found a couple of yellow ones last weekend. It doesn’t take much to make me happy!

      I’m glad you’ve enjoyed this little project. I actually got the idea from Chris Helzer, whose Square Meter project seemed really interesting. I didn’t think I had the photography skills to take on such a small patch, but Walden West was just the right size to provide some variety, without being overwhelming.

      I do have another project in mind; I even have the title for it. The first step is to make a trip to the place this coming weekend, and figure out the logistics. It’s farther away than WW, but it’s still within range. We’ll see!

  11. What a superb adventure we have all enjoyed! Just like the classic literature of my early school years, I savored the words, the thread of a story, the anticipation of the next chapter and the fascinating illustrations.

    You have that unique ability to immerse the reader to the point we feel as though we are there with you. It has been illuminating.

    Although there may be a sense of sadness as this project comes to a close, I think it might be that same feeling one has when completing a favorite book. We sigh heavily that we finished the story, but we have such a comfortable feeling that we accomplished the task.

    We may not get a sequel to Walden West, but I strongly suspect there may be a postscript down the road.

    Linda, thank you for your dedication and patience. You have taught us (okay, me) much about discipline as well as the infinite wonder of Nature.

    1. Hasn’t it been fun? Your analogy with finishing a good book is apt. On the other hand, as a long-time favorite — “La Vie Dansante” — puts it, “Every stop there’s a place to start.” It’s time to start again, but not on a re-read. This time, I’ll be writing a new chapter — and traveling in a different direction. I think it will work. We’ll see.

      I will say I was surprised by how much work this took. The exploration was one thing: the driving, photo processing, information gathering, and writing quite another. But all of it was enjoyable in its way. If it hadn’t been, I wouldn’t be contemplating another year of similar exploration!

    1. One of life’s little oddities is how attractive many of our truly nasty invasive plants can be. If this is Japanese honeysuckle, the flowers are gorgeous, but it’s a bit of a bully. There’s some good information about it here, including some native alternatives that are just as pretty.

      On the other hand, I do agree that the sight of that beautiful green vine crossing those dried leaves is immensely attractive; it’s such a pure, clear green.

    1. I’m sure you’re right about the water table, Dave. It surprised me that no water appeared after an extended time of substantial rain and high tides, even when fields and ditches filled up, but a nearby small creek is just beginning to flow again, so it may be that not quite enough time has passed.

      I do have an idea for this year’s project. The spot’s somewhat farther from home, but it’s an interesting location I’ve always liked, so we’ll see how things go.

    1. I’m so glad, Dina. It ended up having a little of so many thing you like: flowers, trees, critters. I do enjoy the ways we can learn from one another’s blogs; I give you bits of Texas, and you share your gardening, family, and pets. It’s great.

  12. An interesting experiment. Any landscape deserves a closer look. We all too often have only vague glimpses of macrocosm when we look away from our phone screens, but the microcosm rewards a closer look in a real and rewarding way.

    1. The dynamic you mention reminds me of the people who drive across a state like Kansas on the interstate and say, “There’s nothing here.” Nothing, that is, except interesting people living interesting lives in one of the most beautiful areas of the world. Even grass can be gorgeous when someone takes the time to walk into it, and really look.

  13. How wonderful to experience this special place in the course of a year. And even if you don’t want to continue your experiment for another year, even going back there sporadically will provide you with new and enlightening insights.

    1. Since ‘my’ Walden is a part of the San Bernard refuge, I will be back on a regular basis. If nothing else, I can keep tabs on when the water finally comes back into that vernal pool.
      Birds are beginning to show up on the other ponds and sloughs there, so that will be an added treat. Right now, there’s been a lot of mowing and other maintenance done, but in a month or two, spring growth will begin to fill in the empty places.

  14. A good series, Linda. Few people take the time to really get to know a natural area, even their yards. And they never experience the wonder of it. We could all use more nature in our lives. I think it speaks to something very deep in our souls. I felt the same way about the mile trail I built in the national forest behind our house in Oregon that you felt for your ‘Walden.’ I walked it almost every day in all seasons. Even the wildlife ceased worrying about me and went about their business. I was thinking about it the other night as I was going to sleep and rewalked it in my imagination. I miss it. Thanks for sharing your experiences. –Curt

    1. If I haven’t shared this quotation with you, it’s certainly on point. The Swiss naturalist Louis Agassiz once said, “I spent the summer traveling; I got halfway across my back yard.” Knowing any place in all its seasons, or plumbing the depth of a single season in a single place, is immensely satisfying. Walden West certainly affirmed that for me, just as your trail functioned in the same way for you.

      It makes sense to me that you’d miss your trail. It’s a kind of place-sickness: an analogue to home-sickness. Every fall, when the photos of northern latitude leaves begin to appear, my envy stirs, and I’m ready to hit the road. I don’t miss my old grade school or the house I grew up in, or even the people associated with them. I miss the colors of the trees, and the scent of smoke on the air, and the fragrance of wet, rotting leaves during rainy day walks. Place-sickness!

      1. That’s a great quote. Thanks Linda. I have place-sickness for a number of areas, or at least fond memories. The area where I first went backpacking back in 1969 I have returned to numerous times. I get there and feel a tremendous sense of relief. It’s like, “I’m home.” I’ve also returned to my old home town fairly often since I have close friends there. The woods I grew up playing in has now been turned into a trailer court and the pond I played on is a gas station, sigh. I learned a great deal about nature from both, and grew into my lifelong love of nature.

  15. It was a great study and interesting to see the monthly updates. I once did a post taking photos while standing in the same spot in four different seasons, but your study is much more impressive!

    1. What was most intriguing, Eliza, was how much I did find. When I began, I worried that there wouldn’t be enough of interest to keep the project going throughout the year. Well! So much for that! I’m glad you enjoyed it. It did occur to me that it would be even more interesting to carry out the same project over the span of a decade — but I’m not sure I have enough time left for that one!

  16. I’m coming to this late and much has already been said, but you do write clearly and beautifully about the places you observe and then you pull in poetry or literature that takes it from micro to macro. I much enjoy your tours and commentary.

    1. As I like to say, there is no ‘late’ around here. I leave my comments open, and I’ve sometimes had comments posted as much as three or four years later: usually thanks to a search engine. I’ll often comment on other blogs days after a post, just because I want to think about my response. That’s one of the things I appreciate about blogs: the possibility of thoughtful conversation as well as fun repartee.

      I’m glad you’ve enjoyed this series, and I especially appreciate your mention of my writing. Turning a place into a story is an art, and I’ve learned as much about that as about Walden West itself as I’ve gone through this year

  17. An excellent project, Linda and thanks for bringing us along. It is sweet that you became so attached to this place, though seeing your photos and reading your observations I can understand why you enjoyed this place so much.

    1. I get attached pretty easily, Tina, and the discipline of going back every month certainly firmed up my attachment. It’s like any relationship, I suppose, whether with a person or a place: knowledge breeds understanding and, if we’re lucky, affection. It can be easy to get stuck, though — that’s why I decided to move on to other things, rather than focusing here for another year. It’s a big world!

  18. This has been a fascinating way to get to know a piece of land and the life within it well. It shows that we can have a much closer relationship with nature around us if we take the time to look closely and to watch the changes. I’m glad it’s somewhere that you will be returning to regularly – do let us know if the water comes back to the pool!

    1. I am curious about the water. It was relatively deep at the beginning of this little project. My supposition is that the drought simply dried everything out so much that it’s taking time for surface water to appear again. We’ll see.

      My impression is that gardeners are generally good at watching what’s happening in their plots. Like farmers, they have to be, to keep their plants healthy and happy. But in nature, things have to work things out on their own, and watching how that happens was great fun.

    1. My goodness! This was a surprise. They haven’t chained you to your desk, have they?If they have, tell them they have to feed you — and well. I like the log, too. A gnome or two would be fun. Every time I think of gnomes, I think of Snow White and her happy troupe of seven. I’m not sure they were gnomes, but they sure were cute.

  19. No, I’m not chained to my desk. I got my first cell phone a week ago today. It’s taking me a while to figure out how to work things. One step at a time. You can teach an old dog new tricks; it just takes longer.

    1. Well, congratulations! There still are a lot of features on mine I either haven’t explored or haven’t figured out, but like most things techie, I only spend time solving the puzzles when I’ve decided I need a certain function. My ability to ignore apps and programs attempting to convince me I need them is substantial.

  20. This was a great project and I enjoyed tagging along for the ride. I’m glad you were able to stick with it for all the benefits you found. It always amazes me how much things change especially when you really take the time to look closely. I love the little leaf in the log. And I think the violet woodsorrel is a beautiful way to close this all out.

    1. I was surprised and pleased to find that woodsorrel on my last visit. In fact, it was the last thing I noticed, and I was on my way to the car. Even at the time, I recognized that it needed to be the last photo — a way of symbolizing both an end of a project and the beginning of a new natural cycle.

      Yesterday, I made my first visit in months to the spot I’d considered for my next little project. It’s twice the distance from home, but it was just as I’d remembered it, and the thought of making regular visits pleases me no end; I’ve been there before, so have some familiarity, but the photos I’ve shown from the spot have been occasional and not linked by any narrative. It’s quite a different environment, and I realized yesterday that I’m going to have to re-learn how to photograph there. I took more than my usual number of truly unsatisfactory photos, and that’s saying something!

  21. This was an excellent project and a resolution well-kept, Linda. You never know, if you visit occasionally in coming years there may still be more to discover…mushrooms you haven’t seen before, blooms that take a year off to recover their energy.

    I’ve mentioned before that you might want to publish and I think a nice article for a local paper about the wonders to be found in a singular patch of land might encourage more people to enjoy such places. You’ve a wonderful way of writing, something I might have mentioned once or twice, and make some fine images of your subjects. But even if you don’t go in that direction we who follow your blogs were treated to some great pictures and words. Henry David would be proud.

    1. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that a single speech or a single article almost never engages people in a significant way. Writing a story ‘about’ a place isn’t the same thing as drawing people into a place, allowing them to develop a relationship — however tenuous — with it. Even the books that are most important to me have risen to the top of the pile because of multiple re-readings, either in whole or in part; in a very real sense, they’ve become ‘friends’ over time.

      Years ago, when blogs first emerged, some literary theorists pointed out that one of their defining characteristics is that they extend through time; that’s why blogs have followers rather than an audience. It’s a fine point, and one that some of us have discussed at length, but all things considered, I’m happy with what I’m doing.

      I love the give and take, the conversation; my ‘About’ page lists conversation as my favorite sport. I’ve written articles and given speeches without a lick of feedback, and that’s no fun. When I started my first blog, I decided to write as I pleased, and see who showed up. For about three years, not many people did, but despite my refusal of social media, that changed — even though a bunch of so-called experts told me I had to be on social media, and I had to keep everything under 300 words. Pffft. Bring on Ol’ Blue Eyes!

      1. Good explanation and I get it. I still think your writing could benefit others beyond the blog but understand your wish to do things “your way”.
        I haven’t clicked the link yet, but think I know you well enough to make an assumption. Now I’ll comment and then check to see if I assumed correctly.

  22. “Ol’ Blue Eyes”, Frank Sinatra and “I Did It My Way”. But it also made me think of the Blue-eyed Grass you featured just a few posts ago, which thrives so unobtrusively and gives so generously of its springtime joy. In any case, great series of insightful photos and commentary. I’d read of Woodsorrel in books about the early colonists along the New England coast, but didn’t know it was the same as the Oxalis that volunteers in my Texas garden each year – thanks for that tidbit!

    1. I was surprised to learn how many Oxalis species we have in the state. And of course there are the cultivars, with those gorgeous purple leaves and larger flowers. I’ve not yet tasted the plant, but I imagine it to be akin to arugala. My favorite still is borage: sweet flowers and leaves with a cucumber flavor. I call it a tea party in a plant.

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